Church Dispute Headed to Court; Diocese Assets 'Abandoned'

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 19, 2007 | Go to article overview

Church Dispute Headed to Court; Diocese Assets 'Abandoned'


Byline: Natasha Altamirano, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A property dispute between the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and 11 churches whose congregations voted to leave the denomination took one step closer to court yesterday after the diocese's governing body declared the churches' property "abandoned."

In a letter to the diocese explaining the decision, Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee indicated that litigation is likely.

"I have tried to find a way forward in our dispute over property that would keep us from having to resort to civil courts," he wrote. "No longer am I convinced that such an outcome is possible, nor do I believe that such a move at this time is dishonorable."

The diocese's governing body known as the Executive Board based its decision on diocesan canons, which state that all real and personal church property is held in trust for the national church and the diocese.

Church law also requires that the board, composed of the bishop, diocesan officials and 15 elected members from the diocese, protect the property and "take such steps as may be necessary to transfer the property to the bishop."

Ten of the 11 congregations are in Northern Virginia.

Diocesan officials didn't specify whether or when the congregations and their leadership are required to vacate the property, what the resulting consequences might be or how court action might affect that timeline.

"I think it's premature in the process to know exactly what will happen next," said Patrick Getlein, secretary of the diocese, in an e-mail to The Washington Times. "Today's action by the Board was procedural, and I think that we will have to wait and see what exactly the next steps are in due course."

The 11 churches where property has been declared abandoned are the Falls Church in Falls Church, Truro Church in Fairfax, Christ the Redeemer in Centreville, Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, Church of the Epiphany in Herndon, Church of Our Saviour near Leesburg, Church of the Word in Gainesville, Potomac Falls Church in Sterling, St. Margaret's Anglican Church in Woodbridge, St. Paul's Church in Haymarket and St. Stephen's Church in Heathsville.

The diocese's Standing Committee, a 12-member advisory group to the bishop, also met yesterday to discuss the status of the churches' clergy. …

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